Khanyisa, the adorable albino elephant

25th Mar, 2020

Written by Sue Howells, Fundraising & Media – Hoedspruit Elephant Rehabilitation & Development

Photographs as supplied by HERD

The four-month-old female albino elephant calf had been found trapped in a snare with severe injuries. Orphaned and injured elephants like this are a sad reality. Rehabilitating them is the aim of Hoedspruit Elephant Rehabilitation & Development (HERD), South Africa’s first dedicated elephant orphanage. On the 6th of January 2020, the injured calf joined HERD.

Extensive injuries

The calf’s wounds indicated that she’d been trying desperately to free herself for a few days. She had severe lacerations around the back of her ears and neck that stretched around her mouth and cheeks. The top section of her right ear had been sliced off. There was no sign of her herd anywhere.

The elephant was first rushed into the care of the team at Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary in Mpumalanga. Their veterinary team attended to the calf’s wounds, while HERD’s elephant care team departed immediately to assist in caring for her that vital first night, ahead of transporting her to HERD in Limpopo Province. Although she was stable, the calf’s injuries were extensive and she was deeply distressed.

HERD Founder Adine Roode and wildlife vet Ben Muller joined them the next morning, once all correct permits were in place, to collect the calf and transfer her to HERD. It was a three-hour journey. 

Joining the HERD

By the evening of the 7th of January, the injured calf arrived safely at HERD in the Kapama Private Game Reserve. With the support of Lammie, HERD’s resident companion sheep for company, she settled in quickly.

As an albino, the elephant is more visible in the bush and thus susceptible to attacks by predators. It also means that her eyes are more sensitive to light. However, albino elephants have been known to survive in the wild.

On her first morning at HERD, the young calf took her first walk in the early morning light, and Adine decided to name her “Sunshine”. Wildlife vet Dr Peter Rogers, of Provet Wildlife Services, suggested the closest translation in the local Shona language is “Khanyisa”, meaning “Light/Sunshine”, and our elephant care team agreed.

World, meet Khanyisa!

Dr Rogers continues to assist in attending to Khanyisa’s wounds, check-ups, and fluid and vitamin administrations. Elephant calves have a delicate nature, which has proven them to be one of the most difficult wild animals to hand-rear. Our team faces the additional challenge of Khanyisa’s severe wounds and albinism. So each day that her health continues to improve is a victory.

A month has passed since she’s been in our care, and Khanyisa continues to improve daily; her wounds are healing, her eyes are bright, and she’s very alert and inquisitive. She arrived weighing 124kg; her weight on the 8th of February was 147kg – a welcomed 23kg weight gain.

The proximity of the neighbouring adult Jabulani Herd has been reassuring to the little one, and once she’s fully healed, we’ll start with the reintegration process with her new family under the guidance of an expert elephant advisory team.

Khanyisa is an incredibly brave and resilient little elephant, and she’s captured our hearts and those of many around the world too. 

It’s due to the work of HERD and Khanyisa’s carers, Adine Roode, and the wildlife vets of Provet Wildlife Services that she’s continued to go from strength to strength.

For updates on Khanyisa’s progress, follow our social media platforms https://www.facebook.com/HERDElephantsSA/ or http://instagram.com/herd_elephants/